Tell us about “murderabilia.” What is it and what do you think of the institutes that purchase murderabilia for display?
Murderabilia is art and objects owned by killers, like paintings produced by John Wayne Gacy or Charlie Manson. There are murder museums in L.A. and New Orleans and online auction houses that deal in murderabilia. I find it extremely creepy. This art directly or indirectly glorifies killing and the killers. Many states have passed laws to prohibit it, but this fascination seems impossible to outlaw.
Murderabilia has an important message about children of serial killers. What do you hope readers hear from the novel? Politicians? Children in the same position?
I hope that they come to realize that these children are also victims. There are hundreds of children of killers living through post traumatic stress disorder caused by their parents’ crimes. For the rest of their lives, they must deal with terrible guilt and public shaming. I hope that anyone reading this book will empathize with their lives.
How did your work abroad impact the international aspects of Murderabilia? Was it always your intention to write international settings into the book?
Most of my banking career revolved around international work. I’ve worked for many years in Latin America and was doing business for a Canadian bank in North Africa shortly before the Iraq War. I think that international points of view are distinctive but also universal. I didn’t start out writing the book with these settings. But as I explored my protagonist’s past, the settings in Colombia and Algeria offered ways to pull him out of his world so that he could have new perspectives on his family and on love.
Can you comment on why you chose to have the protagonist of Murderabilia a photographer and how photography became therapeutic for survival?
It started with his father, the serial killer. I needed his “hobby” to be both artistic and so despicable that his family would erase him and his art from their lives. In early drafts I didn’t develop how those photographs affected his son, my protagonist. Both Jackie Mitchard, who helped edit the book, and an early agent, urged me to explore this. I realized that my character would search his father’s photographs for clues as to why he didn’t see the evil in his father, and what caused it. But no explanation was complete. He then seized his father’s art to make it his own. He shot photos to take back the narrative of his life. In color rather than black and white like his father.
You’ve expressed a strong passion for nonprofits like the YMCA and San Diego Social Venture Partners. How has your work with nonprofits made literary communities stronger?
I think one of the strong values in both nonprofits and the world of fiction is the appreciation of other points of view. With the Internet and cable news, we can tunnel into increasingly narrow perspectives. But we still crave to broaden our conceptions of life. Through a book, the reader gets into another person or culture’s shoes. Nonprofits delve into other’s lives all the time. It is how they understand people enough to help them.
Religion informs the family upbringing of your protagonist. How did his mother’s fundamentalism function in this novel?
Religion both insulates and wounds the protagonist and his sister. Their mother’s denial of the existence of evil helped enable her husband to kill. Her refusal to even talk about her husband—as if he never existed—prevents her children from processing their feelings. At the same time, her denial is a saving grace. She never lets her children consider that they might carry any part of their father. This shields them from some of the guilt they might otherwise feel, as well as from the suspicion that his murderous genes hide inside them. Denial is both a harmful and saving act.